SALEM -- New COVID-19 risk levels for Oregon's 36 counties showed continued improvement in the latest two-week report, signaling more areas will be able expand business and dining occupancy starting Friday, while allowing for more activities.
"We are largely seeing case rates decline across the state, with the most counties in the Lower Risk level since the framework was introduced in November," Gov. Kate Brown said in officially announcing the new levels on Tuesday. They will go into effect Friday.
In all, 13 counties lowered their risk level ratings, while three showed worsening trends to move up a level. Only Coos and Douglas counties remain on the extreme risk level, which once contained well over half of Oregon's counties.
Polk County remained at the high-risk level
Statewide, Oregon reported 4,615 cases between Feb. 26 and March 6. The statewide average was 108.9 cases per 100,000 residents and the positive test rate dropped to 3.2, indicating that numbers statewide should continue to drop.
In Central Oregon, there was positive movement in the tri-county area. Deschutes moved from high to moderate, while Crook went from high to lower. Jefferson County dropped from extreme to high.
In Northwest Oregon, Clatsop and Columbia counties continued to show low enough rates to continue their current risk status. Yamhill County's case rate dropped low enough to qualify for moderate risk status.
Tillamook County, however, showed increases that put it back into the moderate risk category, bucking the north coastal trend of lowered infection rates.
In Eastern Oregon, Umatilla County showed improvement, but not enough to move out of the high risk level.
Harney, Hood River, Morrow and Lake counties all moved to lower risk from moderate risk.
Baker moved to a moderate level, up from lower, because of infection trends going up.
The Portland metro area, Multnomah County showed enough improvement to join Washington and Clackamas counties at moderate level. Lane County, which includes Eugene, dropped to moderate level.
Curry County showed rising rates that moved it to the higher risk level and Josephine County moved from high to moderate.
Brown said two counties that had moved higher in risk during the past two weeks would be given a two-week grace period to try to correct their trends instead of being required to go to tighter restrictions.
Two counties fell into that category this week:
Malheur County qualifies for high risk level, but will remain at moderate risk level restrictions until the next analysis is announced March 23.
Jackson County qualifies for extreme risk, but will be given the same chance to improve before new risk levels are announced.
The key metric is different for the three sizes of counties the state uses in its risk level system.
Counties over 30,000 people have to keep their case rate per 100,000 people below 200 or they are rated as extreme. A count of 100 to 199 is high, 50 to 99 is moderate and under 50 is lower.
Medium counties — those between 15,000 residents and 30,000 residents — are measured by the number of cases over 14 days. Above 60 is extreme, 45 to 59 is high, 30 to 44 is Moderate and under 30 is lower.
For small counties under 15,000 residents, the key metric is the percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive during the 14-day period. Over 10% is extreme, 8% to under 10% is high, 5% to under 8% is moderate and under 5% is lower.
The improved overall risk level picture came a day after the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced it would award $110 million to bolster Oregon Health Authority in operating dozens of vaccination centers around the state.
OHA said the FEMA support would enable the agency to administer two million shots during a 90-day period. The FEMA program will send funds to the Oregon Emergency Management Department to then reimburse expenses by local, tribal and state authorities.
Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen told a legislative panel last week that increased flow of vaccine doses and the availability of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine have state officials hoping to have 70 percent of residents inoculated by April 21.
With a significant portion of Oregonians hesitant or outright opposed to receiving a vaccination, that may mean that everyone interested should be able to find a dose around that date. Allen said President Joe Biden has expressed confidence that all Americans who want the vaccine will get their shots by May.
"We think this is a reasonably reliable forecast of where we should be." Allen told the House Subcommittee on COVID-19 on March 3. The testimony was first reported by Willamette Week.
Risk levels effective March 12
Lower risk (13)
Crook (moved from high)
Harney (moved from moderate)
Hood River (moved from moderate)
Lake (moved from moderate)
Morrow (moved from moderate)
Moderate risk (12)
Baker (moved from lower)
Deschutes (moved from high)
Klamath (moved from high)
Lane (moved from high)
Multnomah (moved from high)
Tillamook (moved from lower)
Yamhill (moved from high)
High risk (9)
Benton (moved from extreme)
Curry (moved from moderate)
Jefferson (moved from extreme)
Josephine (moved from extreme)
Extreme risk (2)
*Malheur County qualifies for high risk level, but will remain at moderate risk level restrictions until the next analysis is announced March 23.
**Jackson County qualifies for extreme risk, but will remain at high risk until new risk levels are announced.